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Reading a Play

Summary:

These sections describe in detail the assignments students may complete when writing about literature. These sections also discuss different approaches (literary theory/criticism) students may use to write about literature. These resources build on the Writing About Literature materials.

Contributors:J. Case Tompkins
Last Edited: 2010-04-21 08:27:45

This resource should help you read and write about plays.

Find the Film

If at all possible, rent and watch a version of the play you’re reading. Many libraries have collections of recorded stage performances, and it will help you immensely to see the drama performed even if (as is often the case with Shakespeare) it is an abbreviated version. Of course, it goes without saying that if you can see it performed live, by all means do so.

Practice: Look up the title of a Shakespeare play on a movie database website. See if you can find a direct film adaptation (Taming of the Shrew) and a modern retelling of a play (10 Things I Hate About You, based on the same play).

Remember which Characters are on Stage

It’s easy to skip the stage directions when you read, but resist the temptation. Knowing who is on stage at any given time helps you figure out what characters are aware of at any given time. Also, remember that when only one character is on stage, you’re usually going to get a glimpse of that character’s thoughts and motivations.

Practice: Halfway through reading a scene, stop reading and, from memory, see if you can name every character currently on stage. Perhaps even draw out the stage to see who is doing what, where.

Hear the Play

Before the 20th Century, when people described the experience of a play they would say not that they “saw” a play, but that they “heard” a play. Unlike movies or television, with close-ups and cutaways, a play happens in real time, and it happens in your ears. Read out loud important scenes or read parts with others. This lets the sometimes hidden drama of a printed play out into its natural element.

Practice: Many plays can be found in their audio-only formats. This is especially true of Shakespeare plays. See if you can find and hear a CD or mp3 version of the play you’re studying.

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